Friday, December 25, 2015

Inquiries

Photo by Mira van Dongen 


Throughout the summer we labored to exhaustion, all waking hours in motion, farming by hand.  We bent our bodies to the earth.  We cut and callused our hands.  Our backs ached.  At the end of some days Caitlin was close to tears.  I went numb and silent some evenings; and it was all we could do to cook a meal and fall asleep beneath the stars.  Usually I would read while Caitlin cooked dinner.  The stories we read (the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Walking with the Comrades and essays by Arundhati Roy, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) were part of a process of reaching outward, searching for a resonance of experience, and locating ourselves in our place and time in relation to other lives.  Reading about the Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl to California, reading about indigenous villages in the Narmada River Valley being flooded by the government of India in this new millennium, reading about war and bombs, atomic and otherwise – it strikes us that this work we are doing of bringing sustenance from the land with care is peace work.  It is work that directly concerns the freedom of people.  If we can bend our backs to this, then maybe there doesn’t need to be war over resources.  Maybe there actually doesn’t need to be slavery (economic or otherwise) anymore in this world.

In August, a sudden bloom of white-winged butterflies filled the air.  One evening, after a long dry day of shepherding and gleaning fallen seed heads from the brown barley fields, Caitlin cooked supper on the outdoor wood stove while we read Walking with the Comrades with our adopted American little brother Ben.  Dubbed by the locals ‘Senge Namgyal’ for Ladakh’s greatest king and builder of palaces, he came with a student group in July and felt drawn to the people and the work of this remote village.  He decided to stay on for the fall.  Walking with the Comrades details the story of Arundhati Roy’s journey to the forests of Dandakaranya in central India in 2011.  There mining interests are moving in, and an indigenous Adivasi population has transformed into an armed Maoist revolution.

Many indigenous populations in India were written out of their land when the new Indian state’s constitution ratified coonial policy and dlared that all undeeded lands (in effect all lands of illiterate people) now belonged to the state.  The people of the Forest Department (in their minds, removing illegal residents) trampled crops with elephants and burned the fields of people who knew only their ways of living from the land.  This violence and oppression went on for years until the newly formed Maoist forces moved in and violently pushed the Forest Department out.  The Maoists had gained some power and trust of the local people by organizing strikes that were effective in moving the wages of gatherers of forest products toward less exploitative rates.  In response to the Maoists, the government sent in police forces whose presence has meant only continuing terror for most Adivasis.  Many regular people saw their livelihoods destroyed, their friends and families jailed, raped, and murdered by state-sponsored police actions.  Enlistments into the Maoist People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army skyrocketed.

How different are our desires and the desires of these Adivasi people, who are forced from their lands and lives without access to literacy, money, or a process of justice?  We want a peaceful life rooted in the land.  And yet how incredibly different are the conditions of our lives?  How different from these Adivasis are the desires of the Ladakhi people with whom we have the privilege to live and work each day?  None of us want any alien force invading our lives, forcing us out, making our lives miserable.  And yet some people receive such treatment, and others do not.  Why?  What would we do if we were born in Dandakaranya, without the privileges of plenty of food, fine education, enough money, access to land and dignified jobs?  Would we also pick up weapons and take to the woods, a final and dangerous choice for some kind of power in the face of forces that are bent on our destruction?  Or would we give up, move to the slums of a city, and scrape a living selling our labor or our bodies, malnourished, without clean water?  We speak together about this.  We don’t know the answers.

Is mining bauxite worth forcing people to make these kinds of choices?

From Roy’s reporting, the Maoist leaders are by no means perfect.  However, they do have a direct understanding of the lives and concerns of the people of the area – they all live in the same woods – and they do represent an alternative position to the dominant one, which places resource extraction before people’s sustainable livelihoods.  I wish the government of India and the states involved would sit down with the Maoist leaders and actually try to figure out a deal that would modestly benefit all parties.  Instead, Indian elites seem to be happy to throw money and lives into a war against their own citizens so that their compatriots’ mining companies can clear the forests, tear resources from the earth, and strike it rich.  The profits they make doing this are absurd, on the order of hundreds of times their capital investments.

My intention in relating this story is not to point blame at India or at certain Indian people.  The U.S. government is guilty of far more crimes and far worse ones than the Indian government.  This story of modern day India echoes throughout the history of the world and particularly through the appalling story of white supremacy and white power that continues today.  The histories most of us learn in school are subtly changed; they acknowledge the endless conquests, wars and genocides, yet leave our people and our past and current ruling elites somehow absolved of wrongdoing.  Also, the direct flow between the miseries of far-off ecosystems and people, and the daily consumption of the global north, remains ignored or dulled down.  Turn on the TV for ten minutes and you will understand the profit motive and the way it plays on our emotions and seeps into our minds.  ‘All is copacetic, and I really could use a new spring style.’ Behind this veil, a global Empire has grown around us.

The atrocities of this Empire are legion.  One example: in the ten years that followed the first U.S.-led bombing and invasion of Iraq (in January 1991), about half a million Iraqi children died as a result of U.S. economic sanctions (Arnove, Iraq Under Siege).  They died because they lacked food, clean water, and medical care.  Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said with regard to this: ‘I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.’(1)  Who’s ‘we’?  She didn’t lose her job.  Iraq holds some of the largest oil reserves in the world.  Who earned multi-billion dollar contracts for reconstructing Iraq’s infrastructure after the second U.S. invasion in 2003?  Halliburton and Bechtel, both of which are business partners with the Bush administration.  Who controls that oil now?

The ruthless human quest for economic power is anything but new.  It has led to genocide time and again.  American Indians – that is called ‘colonialism.’  Africans, 30 million kidnapped and transported to the states alone, half of whom died on the way.  And now victims of climate change, dying from the privileged world’s two hundred years of reckless fossil fueled power.  To name a few.  Here’s something our ally Winston Churchill said in 1937 about the Palestinians:

‘I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time.  I do not admit that right.  I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia.  I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.’(2)

He’s one of those heroes of our civilization, right?  Defeated the Nazis, yes?

In 1945 we dropped atomic bombs on Japanese people (not soldiers) and scared them so much they surrendered.  Every year since then we have bombed and gone to war against poor countries.  Every year.  Can we talk about this?  Did Vietnam (1961-73) and Panama (1989) pose credible threats to the American people?  What force on earth could provoke such behavior?  What are the consequences of affluence?  How much do we love the American Dream?

It’s wonderful that modern peacefulness in the industrialized world supports a rejection of violence and discrimination based on income level, political views, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, skin color, and so on.  However, actually defending this kind of justice in the world outside the rich countries would take some major economic transformations, and some sacrifices by us, the privileged few.

Wealth, power, and aggression do seem to inspire a certain kind of respect.  When an Indian engineer visited the village of Tar to plan the first electric grid, soon to be installed, we sat down together and he asked me where I am from.  ‘America,’ I say.  ‘Very nice!  Very nice!’ he responds.  I don’t know where to begin.  What does he know of this legendary place?  What has Hollywood shown him?

This fellow came off as kind and pragmatic, down-to earth.  Then a tall man approached from behind him with bold steps.  The rushing waters muffled his footfalls.  The tall man strode up and tapped the rock behind the engineer loudly with a stick.  The engineer started, whipped his head around to see who it was, and as he turned back to me his voice suddenly doubled in volume.  He began a proud and passionate stream of language about ‘India’ (this word he yelled) and a new great age and how they would bring civilization to all ‘backward’ places, ‘no matter the cost!’  I was alarmed (I usually think the costs are worth considering), and managed to say: ‘You must really want to help these people,’ glancing at the tall man with the cavalier grin standing behind him.  ‘I just get excited sometimes,’ he said with a bashful smile.

In this part of India people are seeing some benefits of ‘development’.  In other parts tens of millions of people who were living from the land and had almost no carbon footprint are no wage laborers in slums or worse, because their villages and forests have been flooded by big dams.  Now their lives are entirely dependent on fossil fuels.  They were ‘backward’ places.  I wonder how they feel about entering civilization.

Tar, this village, now protected from Pakistan by the Indian military (which includes its own sons), is still sane enough and remote enough to be a place where the relationship between the human community and the wild remains intact.  The snow leopards and wolves walk the paths of the people at night.  The ibex are fed by the villagers, by the soil and crops they nurture, as inadvertently and inevitably as are fed the insects and mice who eat the excess seeds, and the lizards and foxes who feed on them in turn.  Villagers occasionally lose a goat, a sheep, or a cow to the big predators, but they do not have a snow leopard ‘problem’.  No one sets out to exterminate anyone else.  The people are in living, knowing relationship with these wild inhabitants of the world as well as with every member of their human community.  There is no such thing as not knowing your neighbor.  

The people here all depend on each other; they know each other intimately, they get along, they share in lots of healthy outdoor work, they listen even when they disagree, and their religion encourages tolerance and placing others’ interests first.  They grow nearly all of their own grains, beans, and vegetables, and eat very little meat.  They know how to build new houses of local materials, and repair the old ones.  They have a firm hold on the basis of their lives, and their deep happiness in that is tangible – impossible to miss.

There are ways to live and work with the earth that produce the abundance we need, that increase the biodiversity and health of land, and that create lifeways that do not require harming other landbases.
India and many other ‘developing’ countries (who did or did not get bombed by us) are following America’s model these days, their populations willing or not, generally to the great detriment of their human and non-human populations.  Foreign ‘aid’, for the most part, enslaves those countries to us.(3)

Some questions arise for me: Can we Americans stop asking so much of other places and other people (in oil, food, clothes, labor, ‘products’, metal, and medicine, to name a few)?  Can we figure out how to produce what we need and take the steps to do so?  Could we one day start offering (not selling) the precious surplus of our lives and land to those in greater need?

That’s a kind of economics I could get behind.


Notes:
(1): Arundhati Roy, 'Come September' in An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2005. 
(2): Quoted in editorial, 'Scurrying Towards Bethlehem,' New Left Review 10, 2nd series, July/August 2001, p.9, n.5.
(3): John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 2004.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stone

Photo by Isabella Pezzulo


The village pathways, the fields, the gardens, the open channels are all defined by stone.  Of all shapes and sizes, the stones stack together, wedged with others, packed behind with earth, the walls leaning ever so slightly uphill, or bulging out with the irrepressible weight of a thousand years of soil they hold away from the rushing stream that clears it all toward the distant sea.

After the flood died down in August we gathered stones and blocked the stream completely, as best we could, guiding the flow into long-established side channels that bring cool water to our doorstep and to the fields.  Konchok and I tore apart a vertical stream bank, earth and huge flakes of stone, let them fall, and stacked them into thirty new yards of yura (channel) to bring water to thirsty, sappy, dark-barked apricot trees and a field of dal (lentils).

In the orchard, we walk up flat steps of stone that emerge from a vertical wall.  They are as solid as any staircase, even the step where a crack runs from the end perfectly down its middle to the wall in which it rests.  The steps are special long flat stones that extend deep into the wall, supported by decades of compression.

Guiding the flow and pool of water is an art, imperfect, and inevitably the water escapes its careful bounds, the yura clogs with leaves, and the water pours over a wall at night in a place we did not expect.  The liquid soaks in, finds its way between stones, eats and drinks earth, loosens old holdings, and in the morning we find a V-shaped collapse, a wall of packed soil exposed, a strip several inches wide of field lost above, a pile of stone and earth below.  We dig out the collapse.  We find firm foundations, and build up, stone by stone, backfilling and packing as we go.  The small pick and the shovel (thokse and khem) help our work.

How long have these walls stood?  From across the valley, at just the right angle, the whole slope, planted with trees, looks like a massive, continuous wall of stone.  Within the labrynth, yura plunge down between field edges, and especially in the dark you feel a wondering as to which level of the six to ten terraces between stream bed and homes you're on.  How many times has each wall, of each level, been rebuilt, in the last thousand years?  The very first work we did on arrival in the village was digging and lifting stones from a pile, replacing eight vertical feet of a stretch of twelve foot wall, one level above where the stream flows out of the corner of town and crashes and slips down the gorge to the Indus.  Acho Tsewang directed us a bit, worked with us, then sat and chatted for the rest of the time and let us do it.  This was our training.  A little later we raked earth above this wall into a low mounded ridge to hold the water in the field and away from the stones.  At key locations, this earth wall has an opening that allows water down to a short stone chute that juts out from the wall, water cascading down into the next yura below.

After the flood I helped Meme (grandfather) Angchuk rebuild a yura entrance that had completely ceased to exist.  The yura is cut through the campsite just above town, and beyond the stone wall that borders the campsite the streambed now lay three feet below its level.  Oops.  Upstream the level of the rock bed rose, and we spied a couple of boulders half-blocking the stream at about the same level as our target.  An opportunity!  Over the course of three mornings and two evenings (I took the sheep and goats to the mountains during the days), beginning with giant stones we rolled together with manly grunts end over end from where they had broken off the mountain, we built a new channel. From the boulders, three feet tall and wide, fifteen feet long, it brings water flooding again into the yura and off to the fields and gardens.  We dropped huge stones into the water, we shaped them with hammers, we fit them tightly together.  We brought armfuls of smaller stones and baskets full of smaller ones down to sand, filling and filling the spaces and packing them to resist the water.  A couple of tarps to pad the leakiest sides and string between the boulders, and water surged anew.  I never would have dreamed of such a project, and now, with one of my ring fingernails gone, with the baskets and strong backs of Ama Balu and Ama Yangzes, with the silent work of Meme Angchuk's son Angdus, with the quiet bass cleft urgings and creakings and words of Meme Angchuk, and with the deep confidence of village stonemasons reaching back generations living in his content grinning face, it was done.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

October, waning moon

Photo by Nate Smith

Cassiopia
Rising in the northern sky
Joining the dark ridge
With a white river of stars
Then, past midnight, Orion

Dawn, lighting slow, night-
blue still in the upper sky
Bright crescent hanging
Namlangs Garshan, morning star
Its anchoring point of light

Red on western peaks
First sunlight, nyima neartse
Dark shapes flying fast
So that they break the air, air
rushing in after they pass

Wild, white-seeded vines
The low fast sound of water
Yellow willow, stones,
Umbu leaves dusk-colored rose
Or on the dry slope, flaming

Stones falling clatter
Leaving trails of hanging dust
Sight catches motion
Ibex-- first two, then many
Moving high over the scree

Quiet, grazing, then
Sharp whistles from the sentry
The whole herd running
Pale clouds lifting where they step
We watch their passing, then rise.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wheat Harvest

Wheat harvest began as apricots fell thickly from the trees, golden on the bare soil of the barley fields, among the standing wheat – dark, swollen, piling around rocks in the flowing yuras.  Only six houses – including ours – had crops to bring in.  Most people in the village plant every other year, alternating with field peas.  The others spent their days on rooftops, pitting apricots and laying them in the sun to dry.

A stone had fallen from a terrace wall onto my foot as we moved the threshing machine, and walking was painful for me.  We slept those nights at Ache Tashi’s house, waking to drink hot water with her in the dim light of early dawn, and then going together out to work.

We arrived to Ache Konchok Palmo’s just as she finished harvesting her small, late plot of peas.  She must have started working in the dark.  Abi Dolkar had joined us on our way across the fields; Ama Thinlas came soon after, and then Ama Kunzes.  When the crew was all assembled, working quietly, sleepily, in the glow of rising light, Ache KP’s father Meme Angchuk carried out tea and bread.  Ama Thinlas had brought a tin of fresh, bright butter, flowing those days in incredible abundance from their home, arriving in tea in huge, melting chunks.

We worked all day, laughing, teasing, often singing.  “Nilza Angmo, yangsol sal-le, ju ju,” the amas would say.  “Nilza Angmo, please give the yangsol (the harvest-song call).”

Just before dusk, finished, the others went to move the threshing machine again.  I could hear faint threads of their shouting and laughter as I made a bed and lay down on the roof to sleep.

The next day of harvesting was Ache Tashi’s.  Twelve people came to carry the work, and her three fields were finished by the time the sun went behind the mountains.  Somapi zhing sngaata?”  “Should we harvest Somapa’s field?”  Our field was watered, and ready.  Gratefully, joyfully, I said yes.  Abi Dolkar left to bring back tea and chhang, and the rest of us began the harvest of the wheat that will feed us through this coming winter.

We worked until the dusk, then stopped to eat and drink as if the night were not almost upon us, and half a field still standing.  The grandfathers drank rum, finishing a bottle between them.  “Bring another like that, and I’ll finish your field myself!” Meme Rinchen boasted.  “I don’t have any!” I said.  He threw up his hands in mock fury, and began his unsteady way back across the village. 

Everyone else, undeterred by the growing dark, rose from their recline on the new-fallen wheat and bent to work.  “It will be easy if there is singing,” Ama Thinlas told me quietly.  Ache KP and I held the yangsol then, not letting it fall until the last handfuls were pulled, unseen, in the full-gathered night.

Ama Thinlas, Ache Kunzes, and then the harvest was done.  Heavy days came then, of carrying loads bigger than I knew that I could lift – golden bundles bound with ropes and borne through the precipitous labyrinth of the village.  Threshing felt brief this time, the crop so much smaller than the barley.  From the high path the village recalled spring to the eye – fields all clean, brown earth but for the trees in full leaf at their edges.

The day after Ama Thinlas’ wheat was threshed, Jason and I walked up into the mountains.  A week later, it rained – the first to fall since the flood, nearly fifty days before.  The grain was all stored in giant sacks in the lower rooms of houses – dry, safe, waiting to be ground for winter flour.

This year, no bombs came to Tar, as they did to Iraq.  No tanks, no trucks, no guns.  This year, no dam made waters rise around the houses, as it did in the Narmada valley.  This year has been a good one in this village; the work of living is hard enough when no disaster comes.

May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit

Winnowing




Ama Yangzes’ yultak was smaller than ours, shaded by a row of willows to the north and east. The trees were not thick enough to block the wind that blew up through the valley, the motion of their leaves like telltale ribbons on a sail. When we arrived a pile of threshed peas was waiting, neat, a rope laid out on its southwestern side across the yard. 

Ama handed us zar, beautiful rake-like tools made from five split lengths of rosewood on a willow pole. Zar means hand; the five pieces spread like fingers, narrowing at their bases into cut and fitted Vs, bound together with woven strips of hide and a single nail. Following her motion, we stood at the pile and tossed forkfuls of the peas and straw into the air, letting them fall with an upwind twist of the zar. As the wind blew, chaff moved off to the southwest, the heavier peas falling straight back where they came. Ama Yangzes whistled constantly—as you must— calling up the wind, warding off the dust of straw. When the wind dropped we would pause and rest, cheeks turned, waiting, attentive always to the rising of another breath of air. 

Slowly the straw crossed the rope and heaped there, finished. In time Jason began to gather it in sacks, carrying the phug-ma up to be stored for winter feed. The peas remained, our forkfuls growing heavier as we tossed them. Ama and I worked facing each other, her eyes shining playful and wicked, cheeks redder even than common in the morning chill.

After perhaps two hours the pile was finished, reduced to a dense mound of dark, round peas on the earth. Ama brought a huge, four-handed sieve, hundreds of pea-sized holes punched in a sheet of metal, nailed into a carved wooden frame. Jason and I worked this back and forth while she poured, sifting free what stones and chaff we could. The peas rolled out around our bare feet like tiny smooth sea-stones.

A mountain of unthreshed peas stood above the yultak edge; I thought it must be at least four times what we had just winnowed. “The same,” Ama told us. We poured the cleaned peas into sacks and swept the yard again, hands sweet with khampa smell. Only a small part of the crop remaining filled the sunken yultak, a pool of seed and vine for the dzo to trample. Ama Yangzes told us all of it would fit, added slowly as they circled. 

Ama and Jason took turns driving the dzo while I cooked lunch, harvesting vegetables from the garden and kneading dough for skiu. “You’re an ache,” Jason said, laughing. “You’re a woman of this village. Being asked to cook.” It was the first time I’d been trusted in this way.

Quickly the peas shrank, the tangled mass of plants shattering into a dense layer on the ground. I washed and chopped onions and greens outside, beneath the apricot tree, watching the work progress. Ama was right; all the peas fit. The skiu finished as the threshing did. We ate in warm, late August sun, chuli falling around us, golden and startling as we sat. The afternoon was silent, but for water, and for wind.

Threshing with Dzo

Photo by Isabella Pezzulo


The machine cannot reach the upper village. In the gongma the dzo still do the threshing-work, as they did everywhere until ten years ago. Ama Balu (affectionately “little mama,” our—landlord? benefactor?) came up to our home one evening. Some days had passed since we finished harvesting and carrying the barley from their four small fields there, and the chok stood ready and dry behind the house. “Don’t go to the village tomorrow,” she told us. “Stay here and thresh with us.”


The next morning Ama and her son Konchok arrived leading two huge dzo and two smaller, female dzomo. They tied them with long ropes to graze while we prepared the yultak, or threshing ground. The afternoon before they had watered and swept the circular yard, an open space perhaps twenty-five feet in diameter and ringed by stone. Now the mud surface was clean and smooth, hard-packed, ready to receive the grain. Jason and Konchok carried giant loads of laptse the short distance from the field; I helped them make the bundles, and helped them to their feet.

When two thirds of the grain was carried we spread the long stalks to an even thickness, thigh-deep over the surface of the yultak. Ama and Konchok brought the dzo, harnessing them together with a knotted rope, the large animals on the outside, smaller ones between. Then with a rope leading from the nose of the outside dzo in hand, Konchok began to drive them in a circle. They waded, pushing through the stalks of grain, each step breaking the straw, shaking seeds loose from their husks. They ate as they walked, great hungry mouthfuls, an offering of the harvest for their work. 

Konchok, usually so gentle, was harsh with them. It seemed like I could see the tension I had felt that morning between him and Ama expressing in the work. Work with draft animals is relational— every thought, every emotion is present in the space. As with people, every action, every word is deeply felt. I harvested thumbu in the field from where the chok had stood, wanting to make it otherwise, uncertain how.  

When the thumbu was finished I came back to the yultak, and Jason and I took up the lines. I held one rope leading (from behind) the inside dzo, and Jason worked the outside. I began the simple, soaring, repetitive melody the grandmothers had taught me: “Holo holo-a-o--- Baldoon, holo,” the words a precious relic now in the time of the threshing machine, passed to me like an heirloom. His voice rose above mine, fell below it, turning the melody into a rich, complex harmony of tones. 

For a long time then we walked, learning the subtleties of urging and holding that allowed us to move the circling team exactly where we needed them. Ama and Konchok stood at the edges, turning laptse in towards the center of the yard. Twice we stopped the team and stirred the grain in the yultak, pulling unbroken stems up from the bottom of the pile. Slowly, slowly, the bright load condensed and shrunk. The song became the pattern through which our motion and our intention wove, the force that drove the dzo, the rhythm and the pace. The work felt fluid, steady, clear. While we moved, the singing did not cease.

After perhaps two hours the first load was finished. Resting the dzo we ate our lunch, then raked threshed straw to the side and spread the remaining grain over the yultak. The second load went quicker than the first, the dzo unwearied by the easy labor, the singing strong. Konchok is almost deaf; his voice joined ours sometimes in joyful dissonance. 

As the sun moved down we piled the finished grain neatly on the eastern edge of the yultak, preparing it for winnowing. We swept the hard earth clean with bundles of khampa, a fragrant artemisia abundant in the gravel wastes. The scent of it hung in the air with hay dust as the evening light grew long.         

Holo tangspina?” “Did you give holo (the song)?” This question, asked, meant “Did you thresh with dzo?” When I said yes, the grandmothers were delighted. I told them we wanted to do this in America; they laughed, and shook their heads, and clucked their tongues. 

- Caitlin




The water is cold even at the end of August, and its song wraps around all we do here.  A calf’s black hair and white patches are all twisted and spiralled on her back as she dips her nose and then her whole head into the bucket, enjoying a midday meal.  It is zbaghma, the leftover barley mash that has yielded us chhang.  She eats.  

A meadow spreads behind the calf’s face as she lifts her head again, tiny nubs of horns visible amidst tufts of hair, tongue reaching and curling to wipe goo and grains from her wide black nose.  At the edge of the meadow water flows clear, twinkling in the sun.  And in between the meadow and the stream, a sizable gray trunk stands, its bark two bulges between which runs a wide strip of bare wood, exposed to sunlight and air, dry and occasionally pocked with an old twig-mark.  At its top is a sawn-off trunk, the missing piece undoubtedly living now as a thick strong roof support in a home nearby.  

In the foreground, a hand-thick willow has lost its tops, and has died.  Its notch supports a living green branch, which tumbled sideways in the wind perhaps, and remains attached by a thin strip of wood and bark.  Its leafy tops dangle over and along the fence, and I imagine new shoots growing from this one, becoming part of the barrier that keeps the roaming dzo from Ama Yangzes’ fields.
I wrote this having returned to the house.  This is how I feel on a day threshing with dzo – fully alive.

- Jason